Higher education is no longer necessary for success. Do you agree?


In the past, those who obtained higher education were often associated with a high standard of living and prestigious social status. The chance to attend university was viewed as a necessary milestone in life if one wanted to achieve success financially — graduates proudly displayed their degrees on job applications and interviews. However, attitudes towards higher education today have turned, in light of growing discontentment with graduates being unable to find well-paying jobs despite their good qualifications. Furthermore, many point towards powerful, successful individuals like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Li Ka Shing, who seem to have made it in life without higher education, or even walked away from it. In spite of such claims, for a majority of people, higher education undoubtedly remains key to achieving success. Not only are degrees badges of acquired skill, they are sometimes even status symbols. In addition, the experience of going through higher education often proves to be greatly important if one seeks a successful career.

It is easy to see why there has been increasing optimism of attaining success through means other than higher education. First, the rapid growth of online courses such as Coursera and Phoenix University have led to the argument that the advent of the Internet has made it such that individuals no longer need higher education to obtain the skills they require for their jobs. Second, people often lament that despite obtaining degrees, they are unable to find work, and cannot pay off college debts they have accumulated. Third, mass media platforms have recently painted pictures of how individuals like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg reached the very peak of what it means to be “successful”, without ever needing the support of higher education. This leads to the claim that higher education has lost its ability to deliver some measures of success. These three arguments present the case that higher education is no longer necessary for success. 

However, it is overly assertive to claim that the skills that people learn from university education are irrelevant, even with the aid of the Internet. Instead, it is more reasonable to believe that higher education provides greater opportunities for learning. Though it may be possible to obtain the same access to information, it is only at universities that individuals of similar interests are able to gather in a classroom, exchange thoughts and ideas with each other, and learn under the tutelage of professors at the forefronts of their fields. Comparatively, those who do not attend higher education do not have that same opportunity to ask peers or professors for help when they run into problems understanding the content taught. Especially for specialised fields like biotechnology and law, the skills and knowledge necessary for the future remain largely accessible only to those who have undergone higher education. From this, it is clear that university graduates have greater propensity to gain skills and knowledge than non-graduates.

In addition, the university degree itself is a badge of acquired skill, reassuring employers that these employees have learnt the content, and are able to handle the work assigned to them. This means that graduates are more likely to be hired than non-graduates, which often translates into higher salaries. From April to June 2013, graduates were more likely to be employed than non-graduates in the UK, and non-graduates aged 21 to 30 have consistently higher unemployment rates than their peers who are more qualified. This directly responds to the claim that graduates remain likely to face unemployment woes despite their good academic qualifications. Furthermore, the trust that employers have in graduates’ ability to perform better often translates into greater financial remuneration. Today, bachelor’s degree holders can expect median lifetime earnings of about US$2.3 million, as compared to US$1.3 million for workers with just a high school diploma. Ultimately, higher education does in fact bring about greater financial success for graduates. 

It is also fallacious to argue that higher education has stopped being a necessary part to being successful just because there have been exceptions to it. Not only were Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates intellectual geniuses and visionaries who had foreseen and grasped business opportunities, they were born into circumstances which ultimately facilitated their success. Courses offered at universities could not offer advice to these entrepreneurs embarking as pioneers of a new field. On the other hand, an overwhelming proportion of individuals do not enjoy the same kind of privilege, be it financial or intellectual. Hence, for most, the likely route to success is higher education, which sets them apart from other job applicants. 
In fact, for most occupations excluding degree-blind jobs such as entrepreneurship and advertising, higher education plays an integral role in assimilating graduates into their future workplaces. Upon entering the workplace, university graduates depend upon the ties they had developed to help them along, and this often stems from their higher education experience. For example, specialists often depend on the referrals of other doctors to obtain a base of patients. In such a situation, getting to know others who are in the field is incredibly important for one’s career advancement prospects. Thus, higher education is not just about the content and skills involved, but also the relationships graduates develop with each other. The social advantage that higher education offers hence allows graduates to get a leg up over non-graduates.

In essence, higher education remains necessary for success.. This is not to say that all graduates are necessarily more successful than all non-graduates, because of the multitude of factors involved. However, university graduates do indeed benefit greatly from higher education, a crucial factor contributing to being successful. Not only does the content of such courses remain highly relevant to the industry, the degree that graduates gain and the experiences they obtained gives an indisputable advantage over non-graduates. In fact, governments’ continued spending on higher education — America spends 2.7% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on higher education — only serves as a testament to its importance. 

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Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.